Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beach Girls Hit the Bush-Ola Niassa!

When the opportunity to trek hundreds of kilometres into the remote wilderness of northern Mozambique comes up, you do not say no. The women of Wimbe needed a break from the beach and what better place to get in touch with nature than Niassa Reserve, a conservation area slightly bigger than Switzerland. If the promise of seeing elephants and lions did not assure me of its wildness, the 10 hour drive into the bush was a reminder of just how far away we were from the world of Pemba.


Taking advantage of a local holiday, the five of us (Ashlea, Sarah, Anna, Nil, and I) woke up at 3:30am, loaded up the pickup truck and were out of Pemba city limits by 4am.  You know it is an early morning when you go to bed to the neighbour's party and wake up to it still going strong.  Loud Mozambican music and cookies are welcome any time of day and they kept us going as we drove north west, farther and farther away from the beach.  The scenery changed as we wove through small villages and dodged the large lumber trucks that were clearing out the old growth forests.  Although the distance in kilometres is not huge, the state of the roads made for a slow drive (even when we accidentally ended up driving down an airport tarmac) and I got more and more excited for our final landing in Niassa. 

Impromptu dance formation outside of Balama village

Pemba Bush Babies on their way!

I'm guessing this man doesn't often see this on his daily commute
but he seemed to enjoy the photo op

One of the smoother parts of the road and a row of Flame of the Forest trees

The beginning of the massive construction and logging operations

Between Balama and Marupa (just a little warm out)

Evidence of the slash and burn techniques to create machambas
We also saw huge logging trucks loaded down with unregulated timber.

To a few people's surprise, we did not get lost, did not have any car problems (aside from the leaking diesel jug which I had the pleasure of filling up the day before we left) and we sang our way into the park with West African pop and the sightings of kudu, sables, and bushbucks.  After a warm welcome and introduction to the absolutely beautiful Lugenda Wilderness Camp along the Lugenda River, we went on our first safari drive where we were ambushed by elephants and beautiful birds.  The afternoon safari turned into sundowners on the side of a mountain overlooking the river and Ngalongue mountain range.
Our trusty guides - Donald and Buana (aka Bernie)
Just another Thursday afternoon with a wild elephant

One of the mountains hugging Lugenda
The sound of the birds was incredible on our sunset mountain top

Reserve land for as far as you can see
Not a bad place for a glass of wine

After dinner with the German couples also staying at the camp (who probably wondered how they got stuck with 5 girls who did not stop talking or enjoying the open bar), we had a night drive where I saw my first lion!  Anna and I spotted a head in the bush and as we drove closer, we saw the young male lounging in the grass.   After the excitement of seeing the lion, bush babies jumping from tree to tree, and civet and jennet cats, it was time for bed in our luxury safari tents where Ashlea and I almost got charged by a herd of elephants.  We had to sneak around the side with Donald (our guide) and his giant gun.  But after a long day, the bed was very welcome!

It was hard to capture our sighting of him as bright lights are hard on his eyes and head.

After an early morning wake up call by fighting vervet monkeys and the Bodum coffee press delivery to our door, it was time for our first full day in Niassa.

Ladies of the bush

Our day began with more elephants, but also a huge variety of birds and wildlife like sables, bush buck, elan, kudu, and impala on our way to climb the face of one of the hills to see the cave paintings from about 4000 years ago.

The rocks were covered in these blonde hair bushes. 
It is the height of the dry season and rainy season will
begin in mid-November (when the lodge closes).


Lugenda's airport

A monkey orange tree

Panga panga tree

Weaver bird nests

It was a lot steeper than I thought

The climb down was a lot less graceful with fewer smiles
View from the top
Our bush mobile

They believe the lines are each person or family and the circle with lines represents a clan

A traditional medicine man in the area uses the cave for ceremonies



After our hike, we parked the bush mobile and headed into the forest on foot, hoping not to see the lion from the night before.  We did come to a watering hole surrounded by wildebeest and a herd of elephants.  Elephants are much more aggressive than I realized so as they came closer and closer to us, I just hoped Donald was right in saying they have poor eyesight and the wind was in our favour.  Always good when surrounded by mama and elephants and babies.  After they left, we investigated the watering hole, including rubbing our hands with the clay they bathe themselves in.


We walked down to a calmer section of the Lugenda river (and also free of crocodiles)
With our guides' heads turned, we also waded in the water
(after Anna, our parasite and tropical medicine expert, assured us it was fine)
A king fisher was also working on finding lunch

Aunty, they have Jimmy birds in Africa too!

During our siesta after the busy morning, the camp managers got a radio message that 6 elephant carcasses had been found that morning with the tusks sawed off.  The word went out to the park scouts to begin looking for the poachers.  I did not realize the extent of poaching that is occuring and the complicated linkages and corruption that come with any illicit trade.  Thousands of elephants are killed each year in Niassa reserve alone.

We only spent one night in Lugenda camp and moved on to the even more isolated Lusingi camp in the early evening.  On our drive there, the guides heard a gunshot and went to investigate to see if there were other poachers.  They left us in the truck, slightly terrified that poachers were around (especially when the bush plane began circling overhead to look for movement) but there was no evidence of anything and we continued on our way.  They are still looking for the poachers. 

Waiting for the guides to return and also hoping that poachers were not hanging around

Lugenda Camp - It is amazing to think this is hiding in the bush....


Ben, the resident elephant (and the reason you have to be escorted with a gun to your tent)

Drinking from the pool


After we arrived in camp on Friday night, we met some more bushmen who were staying there that night and heard some tales from their time in the reserves.  Before bed, we went on a night drive and with the new moon and no lights, the sky was more stars than black night and I saw more shooting stars than I have seen in all of my life.  A beautiful way to end the day and prepare us for another day of adventure...
On Saturday morning, we went on an hours long walk through the bush around Lusingi camp, looking at more birds and trees I had never seen before.  We looped around along the river bed in the midday sun before collapsing at camp.  My day was cut a bit short as I managed to get sunstroke and had a personal safari sighting of the inside of the toilet bowl.  But with some TLC, I made it for the drive to the hippo bowl where we watched the sunset and listened to the loud hippos warn us of their presence. 

Some photos of Lusingi camp - a bit more rustic but even more beautiful  



The Bushmen

Python skin on the wall
Black mambos are also very common
Sunday morning, our last day, dawned a bit sadder than the others as we realized it was time to go home.  I think we all felt and needed, in our own ways, a little bit of the magic that comes with driving away, being away from phones and computers, and losing track of hours and days.  Time went by too quickly and it was definitely a quieter car going home than it was on the way there.  With good intentions of leaving at dawn, hanging out with the hippos, breakfast and photo shoots slowed us down but I think it was in the hope of delaying our return!    

The drive home wasn't that quiet with Anna's costume accessories


A Coke in Marupa, a village I hope I never have to go back to


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